Michael Dessen Trio – Forget the Pixel (CF 222)
Joe Fiedler Trio – Sacred Chrome Orb (Yellow Sound Music)
Perhaps there’s more than a kernel of truth in those clichés about energetic New Yorkers and laid-back Californians. How else could one explain the massive variance between performances on these discs, each featuring a bassist, a drummer and a trombonist-leader playing original compositions by the brass man? In a way it’s a difference between lively and listless.
It’s not that Forget the Pixel is that enervated. It’s just that a certain sameness seems to permeate the seven compositions by trombonist Michael Dessen. Dessen, an academic with an interest in new technologies as well as telematic performances in multiple locations, adds computer wave forms to this disc in order to enhance the low-key proceedings. The results curve and undulate nicely, but not enough to alter the air of lethargic moderation that permeates the disc. Besides some rapid capillary movements from Dessen in the JJ Johnson lineage however, the most affecting overall performance is the title track. Here at least brushes-directed ruffs and bounces, spelled with an occasional martial beat, from drummer Dan Weiss, coupled with speedy stops as well as sul ponticello slides from bassist Christopher Tordini provide back-up for the trombonist’s slurs, puffs and squeezes.
Weiss, who has worked with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, and the bassist, who has played with saxophonist Greg Osby, have established their dependability in the past. Meanwhile Dessen, who has been part of the West Coast-based Cosmological band with saxophonist Jason Robinson and others, has similarly demonstrated his musical skills elsewhere. Maybe a concentration on performances over the internet with players in different locations has dulled his live presentation.
Moving eastward, there’s certainly no hesitation on Sacred Chrome Orb as the trio handles 15 compositions by trombonist Joe Fiedler. An adaptor of the multiphonics pioneered by German trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, Fiedler has worked in the bands of multi-reedist Anthony Braxton, pianist Satoko Fujii and even pop star Jennifer Lopez. The third CD by this trio, the band is filled out by bassist John Hébert, who has worked with cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum; and drummer Michael Sarin, first call percussionist for bands ranging from those led by bassist Mark Helias’ to saxophonist Tim Berne.
Throughout Sarin’s percussion smarts allow him to vary his beat so that at points it sounds as if he’s whopping a conga drum and elsewhere as if he playing patterns on a dumbek. The later is especially apparent on “Ethiopia”, influenced by pop singer from that African country, which is also enlivened with the drummer’s tick-tock rim shot and cymbal colors, as the trombonist blasts out tremolo grace notes and blurry cross tones.
Hébert shows out his guitar-like facility on “Next Phase” accompanying a guttural, double-tongued line from Fiedler. Meanwhile “Two Kooks” demonstrates how extended brass techniques including splintered and splayed slide positions and decorated grace notes can swing alongside a heavy backbeat. The thematic line is extended still further by Fiedler on “Chicken”, with rubato slurs and triple-tongued fluttering shading the lively performance. As Sarin clip-clops and rebounds, and Hébert holds down the rhythmic bottom, the trombonist elongates and shortens his breaths for melodic invention.
One would figure in different circumstances – was there a jet-lag drawback in this Lisbon-recorded disc for instance? – that Dessen’s three would put in a less time-marking performance. As these CDs stack up though, the session from the Easterners is definitely more appealing than the one from the West Coasters.